Democrats pressed ahead Wednesday with Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be secretary of defense, scheduling a showdown vote for Friday even as top Republicans signaled that they need more information before confirming him for the Pentagon’s top civilian post.
He is one of several top administration nominees facing roadblocks as Republicans demand to know more from President Obama on various topics, such as the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and threaten to hold up his appointments as leverage.
Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, said Wednesday that he would hold up Mr. Obama’s pick to head the CIA, John O. Brennan, until the White House releases more information about the secret drone execution program.
Democrats bristled at the delay over Mr. Hagel, accusing the Republicans of unprecedented obstructions.
“This is the first time in the history of our country that a presidential nominee for secretary of defense has been filibustered,” Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “What a shame. But that’s the way it is.”
Mr. Hagel, a former Republican senator whom Mr. Obama tapped to be his independent voice at the Defense Department, will need to muster 60 votes Friday or else his confirmation will be delayed until later this month.
He suffered through a rocky confirmation hearing two weeks ago, and Republicans said he has not disclosed all of the foreign clients for whom he has worked in the four years since he left the Senate.
Freshman Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, made a plea for that information, wondering at Tuesday’s committee meeting whether Mr. Hagel might have taken money from governments that aren’t friendly to the U.S.
“We do not know, for example if he received compensation for giving paid speeches at extreme or radical groups,” he said Tuesday.
“I’m looking for an answer,” Mr. McCain said, specifically on “where the president was that night and what he did.”
Mr. McCain would not disclose whether he plans to block a vote on the nomination if Mr. Obama does not supply the information he wants.
“I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it,” he told reporters outside the Senate chamber. “My position right now is I want answers to the questions.”
“The president needs to have a secretary of defense in whom he has trust, who will give him unvarnished advice, a person of integrity and one who has a personal understanding of the consequences of decisions relative to the use of military force,” Mr. Levin said on the Senate floor.
Mr. Levin said Mr. Hagel has the full support of five previous defense secretaries and that he served courageously in the Vietnam War. Mr. Hagel would be the first former enlisted man to serve as defense secretary.
Although they may seem arcane, document requests can be powerful weapons against nominees.
Americans for a Strong Defense, a group that opposes Mr. Hagel’s nomination, accused Senate Democrats of hypocrisy Wednesday for insulating the nominee from Republicans’ request for records, noting the party employed a wide range of delay tactics to thwart some of President George W. Bush’s nominees.
They pointed to successful efforts to block John R. Bolton as ambassador of the United Nations, after Mr. Bush submitted his name to keep him on the job in 2006.
Miguel A. Estrada, an accomplished lawyer known to possess conservative views, withdrew his name from consideration for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia after senators stirred controversy from 2001 to 2003 by calling for legal memos that Mr. Estrada composed during his time at the Department of Justice.
“There’s certainly a history of calling for disclosure for nominees that have gone before the Senate,” said Ryan Williams, the organization’s spokesman.
Despite these precedents, “it’s very unusual to do this with a major nomination,” said Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
As of now, Mr. Hagel and Mr. Brennan face roadblocks — and Jacob “Jack” Lew, Mr. Obama’s nominee to be the Treasury Department secretary, could also may have to overcome obstacles if he doesn’t provide more information about his investment history.
Two Republicans have said they would support his nomination, while others have said they would vote against him but wouldn’t take part in a filibuster.
“I wish that President Obama had made a different choice for this critical position, but he is entitled to have this nominee receive a direct vote on the Senate floor,” said Sen. Susan M. Collins, Maine Republican.
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Tom Howell Jr. covers politics for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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